Berlin: suspect arrested, nine dead after truck crashes into Christmas market
Many people also left injured after vehicle runs into night market, in what is suspected to have been a deliberate attack
Monday 19 December 2016 20.19 GMTFirst published on Monday 19 December 201619.48 GMT
At least nine people have been killed and many more injured, according to German police, after a truck ploughed into a Christmas market in Berlin in what is believed to have been a deliberate attack.
A vehicle, a large black Scania articulated lorry, ran into the market outside the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church on Monday evening.
German police said one person was found dead in the lorry, having died of injuries sustained in the crash, while a suspect was arrested about 100 metres away in the Tiergarten. Police said they could not confirm whether that person was the driver.
A witness told the Guardian that the truck ploughed into the market at speed. “It was not an accident. The truck was going 40mph. It was in the middle of a square, there are main roads either side, [where it could have come from]. But it showed no sign of slowing down,” said Emma Rushton, a British tourist.
She said it crashed into a stall only a few feet from where she and her friend were standing. “We heard a massive bang. About eight to 10 feet in front of us was where the lorry ploughed through. It ploughed through the stall where we bought our mulled wine.
“It ploughed through people and the wooden huts, it tore the lights down. Everything went dark, it was black and there was screaming. It was awful,” she said.
Rushton said they did not know if the incident was over once the truck stopped, so they stayed still. “The people in the huts were under it but they were pulled out and they were fine. We didn’t know if something else was coming.
“We walked where the lorry had ploughed through and saw injured people and blood. We saw 10 to 12 people.”
Another witness, Mike Fox, told the Associated Press that the truck missed him by about three metres as it drove into the market, tearing through tables and market stalls.
“It was definitely deliberate,” said the tourist from Birmingham. He said he helped people who appeared to have broken limbs and that others were trapped under Christmas stands.
The incident was reminiscent of an attack in Nice in July, when a Tunisian-born French resident, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, drove a 19-tonne truck down the city’s Promenade des Anglais into a crowd that had gathered for a Bastille Day firework display, killing 86 and injuring hundreds.
French authorities said that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel had been inspired by Isis propaganda, but they say no evidence has been found that Isis orchestrated the attack.
The incident in Breitscheidplatz, one of Berlin’s busiest shopping areas, came less than a month after the US state department called for caution in markets and other public places, saying extremist groups including Islamic State and al-Qaida were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events”.
A German government spokesman said Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was being briefed by the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, and Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller.
De Maizière told reporters: “My thoughts are with the relatives of the victims and those injured in this terrible incident. I am in constant contact with the security forces in Berlin and have offered them every possible assistance from the federal police.”
Wolfgang Bosbach, an MP with the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel’s party, said: “Although there is a host of unanswered questions, indications are it was a deliberate attack, carried out not just with the greatest brutality and disastrous consequences but also with a deliberate symbolism. Just a few days before Christmas, in the middle of the German capital and amidst happy, peaceful people. The message is clear: no matter where, no matter how, we can pounce at any time.”
Müller said: “What we’re seeing here is dramatic and a shock to us all. We hope what our fears that this is an attack won’t prove true. Our thoughts are with the families of the injured and dead.”
Police said they could not confirm whether it was a deliberate attack or an accident. They said the truck had a runup of about 80 metres before the crash.
They said the vehicle had a Polish registration and belonged to a Polish delivery company. According to the firm, the truck left Poland on Monday afternoon, heading to Berlin. The company said it lost touch with the driver at 4pm local time.
Police called the scene “devastating” and said they had considered that Christmas markets were at risk of being targeted by terrorists for some time.
A spokesperson said: “We are investigating whether it was a terror attack but do not yet know what was behind it.” Off-duty doctors across Berlin were being brought in to tend to the many injured.
Officers said the lorry came from the direction of Budapester Strasse, over the pavement, before coming to a halt by a Christmas tree in front of the church. Known locally as the jagged tooth, the church was bombed in the second world war, and left more or less in its ruined state as a memorial to the victims of the war. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in Berlin, and very close to the Berlin zoo.
Police cleared the area and volunteers set up an information point for relatives looking for news of missing loved ones. The Christmas market was cleared and a police spokesman said there were concerns the crash may have caused a gas leak.